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A talk with a winemaker

We spent a February afternoon in the Russian River Valley of Northern California with Rodney Strong Vineyards winemaker Justin Seidenfeld.

As we tasted their “Charlott's Home” Vineyard 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, Justin explained to us the importance of temperature control during the fermentation of white wines.

Left on their own, temperatures have been known to reach 95 degrees, but by surrounding the tanks with cooling coils, figures can be kept in the 45 to 60 degree Fahrenheit range and this prevents volatile esters from boiling away and the pure, bright fruit components of white wines in particular.

Also evaporation can cause higher alcohol content that is not wanted. I should add that in the case of reds, higher temperatures between 70 and 85 degrees allow for better colour and tannin extraction and limit less desirable fruitiness. Rodney Strong was the first in California to designate single vineyard sites and Charlott's Home Vineyard” honours his wife and a plot of land that she loved. This Sauvignon Blanc is light and crisp and highly aromatic with ripe peach, tangerine, pineapple, citrus and lemon grass. The wine at $19.30 presents a lovely alternative in style and flavour to the ever popular ones from New Zealand.

In 1965 Rod Strong was the first to plant in an area that in 1983 officially became an AVA (American viticultural area) called Chalk Hill. He recognised the unique white volcanic soils which impart a mineral like character to his Chalk Hill Chardonnay.

One is reminded of the deep chalk soils in the Chablis area of Burgundy. We appreciated the abundant fruit, mineral, toasty oak and creamy crispness of the 2012 Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay (sells for $23.00) as we were told about “regulated deficit irrigation”.

Not only is the winery the first in Sonoma to be certified totally carbon neutral because of vast solar power arrays, but their agriculture is certified sustainable and they are concerned about water use as well. Ariel photographs are taken of their vineyards and the chlorophyll content of the leaves shows up in various colours on a map that lets the vineyard management team know which vines are stressed, which are over vigorous and which are just right.

This situation is evened out by a computer controlled irrigation system that conserves water. I actually received an e-mail from a winemaker this week asking if my wife and I would come back, as it rained for the ten days that we were there and this helped alleviate the worst drought in one hundred years. It stopped as soon as we left.

As we tasted one of my very favourite Pinot Noirs, Rodney Strong Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2012, we discussed 2,4,6 trichloroanisole which for obvious reasons is usually referred to as TCA or “cork taint”.

This chemical that can infect barrels, winery storage conditions and corks, imparts a mouldy “wet dog” odour and this is one of the reasons why a restaurant sommelier always lets the customer taste the wine.

Quite remarkably an individual can be trained to detect one part in a trillion as this compound is so potent!

As TCA is volatile it can often disappear if the wine is decanted and left for forty five minutes or so and the wine is perfectly all right and safe to drink.

Rodney Strong buys DAIM composite corks that have been bathed in a liquid, super cooled, carbon dioxide solution and as this destroys TCA they have not found a trace in 6,000,000 corks that were tested recently.

But I must finish telling you about their Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley, a place where Russian fur traders hunted over one hundred years ago and where today its cool climate is so suitable for luscious, sensuous Pinot Noir.

The 2012 is soft and silky with fascinating rose petal and crushed pomegranate aromas.

Ten months of ageing in small, French barrels adds a hint of toasty oak and complex spice.

This most challenging of all grapes to work with is yours for $23.95.

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Published March 28, 2014 at 9:00 am (Updated March 27, 2014 at 8:40 pm)

A talk with a winemaker

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